Last night’s performance by Buddy Guy and “first act” The Record Company was one for the books. It’s always a treat when you get two for the price of one, and last night was no exception. I always try to arrive at a show early to catch the first act (I hesitate to call anyone an “opener” because I find most often, these bands stand on their own merit and you hear something you are grateful for).
Last night was no different. Local band, The Record Company arrived on stage quietly, introducing themselves while tuning up and telling the audience how excited they were to be opening for Buddy. Fronted by Chris Vos on vocals, guitars, lap/ pedal steel, and harmonica, Alex Stiff on bass, piano, and vocals, and Marc Cazorla holding it down on drums, they were a great way to start the show off. The group is steeped in the music of the blues greats, but with their own fresh twist on it. Not at all trying to “cover” this material, they could be best described as a mix of Rockabilly/Rock/Blues. Their sound was crisp, clean, and perfectly balanced for this venue.
This was my first trip to Royce Hall in a while, and I had forgotten how much I love this place. Besides being one of the most inviting and cozy venues in Los Angeles, it has a sound that has to be heard to be believed. The Los Angeles Times has described it as “something of an acoustic miracle”. I concur. The venue itself is hard to describe, with it’s beauty, comfort, and ambience.
Before launching into their set, Chris Vox recounted how he had discovered Buddy Guy at age 16 at a concert in Milwaukee, and being captivated ever since. It clearly shows in their performance, and it is also evident that there is a mutual-admiration society taking place as The Record Company’s shows have started to become acclaimed very quickly wherever they go, and they have toured with the likes of BB King, Robert Randolph, Black Joe Lewis, Charles Bradley and many others. They must be doing something right…
At one point in their set, they decided to take things down a notch. Dedicating a song to Johnny Winter, they abandoned their posts, and with just bass, tambourine, and an acoustic guitar, they managed to pull off a sound that was at least twice as lush as what was really going on. It was raw, stark, and compelling. Three guys almost playing a capella, with the audience, now fully seated clapping along, singing along, and cheering them on, sounding like a mix of James Brown and Johnny Winter. If you are presented with the chance to see them, do so. Bands like this help to keep the Blues alive and many of us are grateful for this.
After a short intermission, it was time for Mr. Buddy Guy to take the stage. The band comes out, warms up a bit, and starts the low-key intro, and Buddy walks out. You at once feel “I’m about to see a legend perform” and also feel completely relaxed due to the casual nature of the venue. And then Buddy starts playing, or more exactly rips into his first number, “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues”. I could list all the superlatives that go hand-in-hand reviewing a show like this, but if you’re reading this, you know that trying to describe Buddy Guy’s playing is like trying to describe a wonderful culinary experience. You just have to experience it and chances are you have already.
I did manage to catch Buddy’s act a few weeks ago when he opened for the Rolling Stones at the Summerfest in Milwaukee, and this was completely different. At Summerfest, he seemed to have a lot less interaction with the audience, and at times seemed almost detached. When he came out to do his one song with The Stones, “Champagne And Reefer” he almost had to be pushed in front of the mic to do what everybody there wanted to hear; sing!
Last night’s show was nothing like that. Not only was just about every single song preceded by a story that was part history lesson and part personal experience, but Buddy would sometimes stop the song right in the middle, relate a personal anecdote, and then continue right on playing without missing a beat. Frankly, he could not have played a note, just spoken and told us his stories, and it would still have made for a great show. To say his banter with the audience was “colorful” would be an understatement. I heard more f-bombs and s-bombs than would be present at any current hip-hop show. His repartee with the audience is charming and humorous, not holding back anything. He even apologized at one point for all his cursing by saying “sorry for all the s**t talking”. Hilarious. Then he recounted his first experience smoking a reefer with his good friend Junior Wells and how in his “altered” state went to flag down a taxi and ended up hopping in the back of a police car.
Firing off one well-known hit after another, he did not disappoint either the casual fan, or the diehards amongst us. There was literally something there for every single audience member. Demonstrating his deep connection with his listeners, at one point he just calmly walked off the stage into the aisle, continued playing, walked all the way to the back of the room, through the door, back through the other door, and right back down the aisle, pausing to let people reach out and touch him, as they themselves were being touched by the passion and humility of this legendary performer. It was part Gospel, part Baptist revival, and it was definitely the school of The Blues!
Nearing the end of the set, it was time for Mr. Guy to link himself to some other notable guitarists who as most are aware, used Buddy as the template for their sound. Of course I’m talking about Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Eric Clapton. Whether he was acknowledging their greatness, or just pointing out that he was the original template for all the blues-based rock of the past 40 or so years is debatable, but of no consequence. Without Buddy Guy, we would be living in a very different musical landscape.
We were treated to an acoustical version of “What’d I Say” that was so clear, you could hear a pin drop. And speaking of a pin dropping, I’ve never seen an audience follow the request of the house by putting away their phones and watching the show. It was refreshing to see an audience just watch the show. The next song was preceded by the explanation “this cat stopped in to tell me about Jimi, Cream and Clapton and what they were doing in England. And that s**t went something like this”. He launched into a jazzy version of Strange Brew that was refreshing in its simplicity at first, and then turned into an overdriven, wha-wha-pedal, shred-fest, continuing on with “Voodoo Chile” and “Sunshine Of Your Love”. Note-for-note he proved that he was the template.
He left “Champagne And Reefer” out of his set, stating that he “doesn’t do that any more”(perhaps the substances, not the song). I would have loved to have heard it, but maybe it’s reserved for Rolling Stones shows…
I don’t think a single audience member left the hall wanting for anything. Other than maybe the next show by Buddy Guy!
All photos: Ivor Levene for The Los Angeles Beat